BACKGROUND: A decrease in arterial isoleucine values after intragastric blood administration in pigs has been observed. This contrasted with increased values of most other amino acids, ammonia, and urea. After an isonitrogenous control meal in these pigs all amino acids including isoleucine increased, and urea increased to a lesser extent, suggesting a relation between the arterial isoleucine decrease and uraemia after gastrointestinal haemorrhage. METHODS: To extend these findings to humans, plasma amino acids were determined after gastrointestinal haemorrhage in patients with peptic ulcers (n = 9) or oesophageal varices induced by liver cirrhosis (n = 4) and compared with preoperative patients (n = 106). RESULTS: After gastrointestinal haemorrhage, isoleucine decreased in all patients by more than 60% and normalised within 48 hours. Most other amino acids increased and also normalised within 48 hours. Uraemia occurred in both groups, hyperammonaemia was seen in patients with liver cirrhosis. CONCLUSIONS: These results confirm previous findings in animals and healthy volunteers that plasma isoleucine decreases after simulated upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage. This supports the hypothesis that the absence of isoleucine in blood protein causes decreased plasma isoleucine values after gastrointestinal haemorrhage, and may be a contributory factor to uraemia and hyperammonaemia in patients with normal and impaired liver function, respectively. Intravenous isoleucine administration after gastrointestinal haemorrhage could be beneficial and will be the subject of further research.